Remodel on the Right Track

Remodel on the Right Track

It was a kitchen remodel where one thing kept leading to another, jacking up the price and jettisoning the timetable for completion. Then, while jackhammering the thick tile flooring, a tradesman made a scary discovery: There, in the setting material, lay an electrical wire.

"Nobody had thought to turn off the electricity in the house because this just isn't something you encounter," recalls Lucy Katz, vice president of operations and customer service at Katz Builders in Austin, Texas. "Had the jackhammer hit the wire, someone would have been electrocuted."

The snake didn't bite that day. But kitchen projects almost always result in a shock of a different sort - sticker shock. People watch home design shows that redo kitchens "on a dime," cutting corners and wrapping up swiftly and neatly in the span of an hour-long episode.

1. Kitchen Costs

In fact, renovating a kitchen is time-consuming, messy and expensive. Costs vary by region, but nationwide, a mid-range, major kitchen remodel costs an average of $56,768 in 2015, while an upscale kitchen remodel came in at $113,097, according to the

"What I really want to make clear so people are prepared is that remodeling a kitchen is not an exact science. It's not one-size-fits-all," says certified kitchen designer Robin Siegerman, founder of "You can discover something that leads you down the path of having to deal with 10 other things. So set aside a contingency fee of at least 15 percent of the overall budget to deal with these things and still finish the job the way you want."

Aging infrastructure and the misdeeds of previous remodelers are two sources of unpleasant surprises, but sometimes, spiraling costs are due to decisions made by the homeowner. It pays to know which decisions drive up costs and which projects tend to beget other projects.

While it's worth it to many homeowners, changing a kitchen's footprint is an expensive endeavor that calls for new electrical circuitry, plumbing and flooring. Building an addition involves demolition and major reconstruction, and any existing structural problems will need to be fixed.

2. Mechanical Changes

Relocating the sink or range may necessitate new plumbing or gas lines, which are especially burdensome where there's no basement and water pipes and gas lines are embedded in the foundation, Katz says.

In comparison, rerouting electrical "is not really a big deal. I wouldn't suppress my design ideas because I need to move an electrical appliance," says Randy Tapper, owner of RHT Designs and Construction in Deerfield, Illinois.

By contrast, "Plumbers cost the most of all the trades, so moving the sink is very significant," he adds.

Adding an island is easy enough until it's made into a wash or cook station. Moving a vent hood over an island requires new ductwork in addition to electrical wiring, Tapper says.

3. Plans and Shortcuts

Bottom line: "If you just change out the appliances, cabinetry and countertops and leave the walls intact and the electrical and plumbing in place, you'll see tremendous cost savings," Katz says.

Be advised, though, Siegerman says: "Sometimes a quick fix or a shortsighted decision can cost you down the road." One example is when homeowners choose to place new stone countertop onto existing cabinetry, which can strain the cabinets and render the drawer glides nonfunctional.

Two of the costliest mistakes are changing plans once a project is underway and not hiring a competent, connected designer or contractor to begin.

"The time to make changes and change your mind is in the drawing phase," Siegerman says. "Once the contractor has quoted the job and gets started, to say, 'Gee, I'd really like to have a window here' where no window was planned - that's expensive."


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